With the assignment of five more players to Charlotte of the American Hockey League, the competition for season-opening roster spots is officially drawing to a close.
With Jon Matsumoto, Riley Nash, Bryan Rodney, Jerome Samson and Jared Staal leaving the Hurricanes’ main training camp on Sunday, the team’s roster now stands at 26, which is one more than the maximum allowed to clubs making season-opening trip to Europe.
That makes one more cut a necessity, although coach Paul Maurice says the team may take as few as 24 depending on health. Teams are typically only allowed 23 during the regular season, but those headed overseas are granted a temporary exception.
“We will start to see what we hope are (regular-season) line combinations at practice on Tuesday,” said Maurice.
There are now eight defensemen and three goalies left on the roster, which is what Maurice plans to have with him when the team departs after Friday’s exhibition against Atlanta. That would seemingly punch tickets for the likes of Brett Carson, Jay Harrison, Justin Pogge and Bobby Sanguinetti.
Barring injury to another player between now and the end of the week, that leaves five seats on the plane for the forward group of Zach Boychuk, Drayson Bowman, Zac Dalpe, Patrick Dwyer, Patrick O’Sullivan and Jeff Skinner. All have had at least reasonably good camps, but a decision will have to be made.
Possibly affecting that call is the recent experimentation with established veterans in the third-line center spot. Once considered wide open for a young player to seize, Maurice suggested on Sunday that Jussi Jokinen is now the favorite.
“I think what it comes down to is that we have a tremendous amount of confidence in this guy,” said Maurice, who has also used Chad LaRose in that spot this preseason, of Jokinen. “Yes, he scored 30 last year on the wings and goal scoring is important, but I think he can still generate all the offense he needs and will get more power play time this year. Getting the first look there off the bench will help drive his numbers a bit.”
Of the young forwards left in camp, none are considered to be full-time, do-or-die centers. Dalpe may be the closest thing to that, but the Hurricanes have always considered him to be a two-position player. Skinner, whose natural position is in the middle, has seen better results on the wing throughout camp.
Bowman, who has played in all four of the Hurricanes’ exhibition games and, according to Maurice, actually saved his best for last, may be the front-runner for regular NHL playing time.
“These last three games will tell us where he’s going to be slotted in, but I’m really happy with him,” said Maurice.
Regarding the health questions that may determine how many players make the trip to St. Petersburg and Helsinki, Maurice said that Sergei Samsonov’s neck strain, suffered Saturday after a head-first crash into the Atlanta boards, is not considered serious at this point.
“I don’t have a timeline for you, but the neck is not an issue,” he said. “It’s one of those things where we’ll wait two or three days to see how he feels, and then I can give you a better idea of when he’s going to be back on the ice.”
Maurice also said that Jiri Tlusty, who has been skating as much as anyone during practice but has not yet been able to take contact as he continues to rehab from knee surgery, would be fully cleared by Tuesday and could play as soon as Wednesday in Florida.
Now that the roster is much closer to the real thing, look for Tuesday’s session (there will be no on-ice sessions Monday due to the team’s annual charity golf tournament) to feature extensive special teams work for the first time.